Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Seeker/DNews is optimistic about how people would behave during the apocalypse

I write a lot about post-apocalyptic fiction, particularly in films and television.  All of those thrive on conflict, which fuels drama and contributes to the viewers' entertainment.  Seeker/DNews reports that would be unrealistic in What Would Happen in an Apocalypse... According to Science.

Most people think the apocalypse would bring violence, crime, and selfishness. But according to scientists, that's just not realistic.
People remain calm as the world ends, video game study suggests
"As the world ends, will you lock arms and sing "Kumbayah" or embark on a path of law-breaking, anti-social behavior? A new study, based upon the virtual actions of more than 80,000 players of the role-playing video game ArcheAge, suggests you'll be singing. The study...found that despite some violent acts, most players tended toward behavior that was helpful to others as their virtual world came to an end."
I hope that's true.  If so, that's good news, even if it might not be good entertainment.

By the way, my wife plays ArcheAge.  I wonder what she'll think of the cited study, especially since she's a psychologist.  Hmm.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Not So Pure Michigan on the QLine, which is free until Labor Day

I've been cheering on the QLine/M1 Rail since it was first proposed, most recently in Riding the QLine for Dump the Pump Day.   Not everyone is as enthusiastic or positive about the idea.  John Kerfoot of Not So Pure Michigan provides a humorous take on this scepticism in Pure Michigan: The QLine.

spoof of the Pure Michigan commercials, by John Kerfoot, highlighting the Q-Line transit system.
The QLine does need to be expanded to be useful, at least out to the old State Fairgrounds on 8 Mile, if not to Birmingham and Pontiac.  Otherwise, it will become another People Mover, which just happens to be a (closed) Disneyland ride.

For a more positive take on Detroit's new streetcars, the Detroit Free Press reports QLINE free through Labor Day, thanks to Kresge Foundation.
In a boon to passengers, the Kresge Foundation will cover all fares on the QLINE streetcar service for July and August to promote usage and build confidence in public transit in Detroit.

The donation, likely to total at least a couple of hundred thousand dollars, means that users of the QLINE will not have to pony up the announced $1.50 fare until after Labor Day.

And the extension of the free-ride period comes as the QLINE is making operational changes to lessen wait times and to speed up travel times, including training more drivers and eliminating stopping at stations where no one is waiting and no passengers wish to get off, much as many DDOT buses now operate.

“The QLINE holds much promise as an integral piece of a true regional transit system and we are invested in its long-term success” said Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson. “With dozens of summer festivals and activities up and down the Woodward Corridor, our motivation to extend free fares is to expose every city and metro resident to the QLINE."
It may only travel three miles, but it's still free.  Enjoy it while it lasts!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Trees communicate through their mycorrhizae from Fusion and TED

I have another video to show my students in addition to ones about icebergs and ants.  A friend of mine sent me Fusion's Trees can talk to each other. Seriously.

We know it sounds crazy, but hear us out: trees actually are speaking to each other. Trees use a vast underground network to send each other nutrients, and warn their their neighbors about droughts and disease. Considering they've been around for over 400 million years, is it really that surprising that they’ve figured out a way to communicate?
I plan on showing this video along with the one about farming ants today.  Both of them are about the mutualistic relationships of fungi with other organisms.*

Fusion quotes Suzanne Simard, so I may as well go to the source.  Here she is giving a TED Talk on the subject, How trees talk to each other.

"A forest is much more than what you see," says ecologist Suzanne Simard. Her 30 years of research in Canadian forests have led to an astounding discovery — trees talk, often and over vast distances. Learn more about the harmonious yet complicated social lives of trees and prepare to see the natural world with new eyes.
This video is pitched at a higher level than the one from Fusion, but it's too long to show to my students today.  Darn.

*Speaking of fungal mutualisms, mow I'm looking for a video about lichen.  If I find a good one, I'll post it.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

'The Handmaid's Tale,' 'Stranger Things,' and 'The Good Place' lead speculative fiction nominees at Television Critics Association Awards

I concluded yesterday's entry by telling my readers to "stay tuned for the Sunday Entertainment Feature.  I plan on writing about the Television Critics Association Awards."  I begin with Wotchit Entertainment's Atlanta, Handmaid’s Tale Lead TCA Award Noms.

The 2017 Television Critics Association award nominees have now been officially announced. FX's "Atlanta," NBC's "This is Us" and "The Handmaid’s Tale" had the most nominations with four. Those three shows are also up for the Program of the Year award. Five other programs had three a piece. HBO earned the most nominations for a single network with 12, followed by FX with 11, Netflix with ten, NBC with seven and Hulu with four.
In addition to "The Handmaid's Tale," "Atlanta," and "This is Us," three other shows are nominated for Program of the Year.  Two of them, "Stranger Things" and "The Leftovers," count as speculative fiction.  The third, "Big Little Lies," tied for the most honored television show at the Golden Trailer Awards, which prompted me to observe "I'll know to look for "Big Little Lies" among the Emmy nominees next month."  Its three TCA Award nominations just reinforce that feeling.  Just the same, I'm rooting for either "Stranger Things" or "The Handmaid's Tale."

Both "Stranger Things" and "The Handmaid's Tale" are also nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Drama and Outstanding New Program.  In the first category, they're competing against the past two years' winner, "The Americans," as well as "Better Call Saul," "The Crown," and "This is Us."  I'm rooting for "Stranger Things," but I expect either "The Americans" or "The Crown" will win.  In the second, both are competing against "The Good Place," which I first realized was speculative fiction when I saw it among the nominees for Best Fantasy Television Series at the Saturn Awards.  I'll have more to say about the show about the afterlife later.  The other nominees for Outstanding New Program include "Atlanta," "The Crown," and "This is Us."  I'd love for one of the three speculative fiction nominees to win, especially "Stranger Things," but I suspect one of the more conventional shows will instead.

Elisabeth Moss earned the fourth nomination for "The Handmaid's Tale" in Individual Achievement in Drama, the TCA's equivalent to Best Actor/Best Actress.  This is the same category in which Carrie Coon earned a second nomination for "The Leftovers" and "Fargo" combined.  Between the two of them, I am rooting for Coon, but I doubt either will win in a field that includes Sterling K. Brown for “This Is Us,” Claire Foy for “The Crown,” Nicole Kidman for “Big Little Lies,” and Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon “Feud: Bette And Joan.”  Note the predominance of actresses in this field.  This reflects what I have been saying since December and repeated most recently last month, that the actresses this year are very strong, stronger than the actors.  I'm glad to see the TCA concurs.

The nominees for Individual Achievement in Comedy also show that the actresses are stronger than the actors this year.  The one speculative fiction nominee is Kristen Bell for “The Good Place.”  She's competing against four other actresses, Pamela Adlon for “Better Things,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus for “Veep,” Issa Rae for “Insecure,” and Phoebe Waller-Bridge for “Fleabag,” and two actors, Aziz Ansari for "Master of None" and Danny Glover for "Atlanta."  I'm rooting for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but I wouldn't be upset if Bell won.  However, I expect Glover might instead.

Speaking of comedy, "The Good Place" is competing for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy along with "Atlanta," "black-ish" (last year's winner), "Fleabag," "Master of None," and "Veep."  I'm rooting for "Veep," just like I'm rooting for Louis-Dreyfus, but expect "black-ish" to win instead.

There is one last category with speculative fiction shows.
“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” PBS (2016 Winner in Category)
“Doc McStuffins,” Disney Junior
“Elena of Avalor,” Disney Channel
“Odd Squad,” PBS
“Sesame Street,” HBO
“Speechless,” ABC
The one that looks like the most conventional fantasy is "Elena of Avalor."  All the rest have some degree of fantasy involved except "Odd Squad," which is science fiction, "Sesame Street," which is a fairly conventional educational program, and "Speechless," which is an innovative but reality-based sitcom.  The only one I'd watch would be "Speechless," which is as much for adults as for kids, but I'm rooting for "Elena of Avalor."

That's enough fantasy.  I might write about the reality and news and information program nominees later.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Driving update for June 2017: Dez

I mentioned my wife's car in Driving update for June 2017: Pearl plus Tesla worth more than GM or Ford.
I was hoping for fewer miles because of a week off and not having [to] make up for Dez not being in the shop, but apparently I managed to drive slightly more just the same.  However, I'll have to wait until Dez passes 55,000 miles to see what the total driving impact for the family really is.  That should happen late this month or very early next month.
Dez passed 55,000 miles on Wednesday the 21st, so it's time for another driving update.

It took my wife 85 days to drive Dez 1000 miles, which translates to 11.76 miles per day and 358.82 miles per standard month.  That's more than the average of 7.19 miles per day or 219.42 miles per standard month she drove Dez between November 2016 and March 2017.  The reason for the increased driving is the same one that I cited in March for Pearl not getting a third update since November before Dez got her first; my wife drove the car to Chicago and back to visit our daughter.  More of that trip accrued to this update than the last one.

As I mentioned above, the important statistic is how much both of us drove our cars.  During the same 85 days that my wife drove Dez 1,000 miles, I drove Pearl 1,650 miles for a total of 2,650 miles.  That translates to 31.18 miles per day and 950.88 miles per standard month.  That's more than the 26.26 miles per day and 800.90 miles per month we drove between November and March.  It's also more than the 24.93 miles per day and 760.4 miles per standard month we drove both cars over the comparable period last year.  It's amazing how much one trip to Chicago and back affects total miles driven.  Let's see if the next update shows us returning to last summer's baseline.

Speaking of baseline, it's time for a comparison of our driving habits to those of the rest of the country.  From Doug Short.
The Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Commission has released the latest report on Traffic Volume Trends, data through April.

"Travel on all roads and streets changed by 1.2% (3.3 billion vehicle miles) for April 2017 as compared with April 2016." The less volatile 12-month moving average was up 0.1% month-over-month and 0.8% year-over-year. If we factor in population growth, the 12-month MA of the civilian population-adjusted data (age 16-and-over) is up just 0.04% month-over-month and up only 0.2% year-over-year.

Here is a chart that illustrates this data series from its inception in 1971. It illustrates the "Moving 12-Month Total on ALL Roads," as the DOT terms it...The latest data point is another all-time high.

Looks like my wife and I are contributing to the trend of increased driving.  That might increase more, as oil and gas prices are down year over year, but that's a story for another entry.  In the meantime, stay tuned for the Sunday Entertainment Feature.  I plan on writing about the Television Critics Association Awards.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Icebergs and ants, two stories I tell my students

Seeker, formerly DNews, posted two videos recently about stories I tell my students.  The one that caught my eye first was The Insane Plan to Tow an Iceberg to the Middle East.

A United Arab Emirates company wants to tow an iceberg from Antarctica to the desert for drinking water, but is their plan feasible?
A United Arab Emirates Company Wants to Tow Icebergs From Antarctica to Combat Drought
"Desperate times call for desperate measures, and it doesn't get more desperate than the Emirates Iceberg Project - a new plan to lug giant ice cubes halfway across the world to combat drought in the United Arab Emirates."
I first encountered this idea back in the 1960s while I was reading the Time-Life book "Water."  Fifty years ago, it struck me as a science fiction project, complete with nuclear powered tugboats, but for at least the past decade, I've been telling this story as a way of illustrating the impracticality of using polar ice as a source of water.  After all, if the idea has been around for 50+ years, why hasn't anyone actually tried it?  It isn't better than the alternatives, such as desalinization, that's why.  Now that this video exists, I can show it to my students and say, "See, I'm not making this up."

The other video is one I could have used this week, as I lectured about fungal symbioses in the biodiversity class I teach in the summer.  Watch Ants Are Growing Food and They're Better at It Than We Are.

Believe it or not, ants started farming way before we did. How do they do it?
Ants Mastered Sustainable Agriculture 30 Million Years Ago
"Ants cultivated designer crops in controlled environments millions of years before humans figured out how to push seeds into the ground to grow food, scientists reported in a study Wednesday. It has long been known that dozens of ants species tend and harvest fungi in subterranean farms, mostly to feed a colony's larvae. A few species have taken that process to the next level, modifying fungi so thoroughly they can no longer survive in the wild, much in the way some genetically altered crops consumed by humans are not viable without pesticides or other inputs."

Dry habitats were crucibles of domestication in the evolution of agriculture in ants
"The evolution of ant agriculture, as practised by the fungus-farming 'attine' ants, is thought to have arisen in the wet rainforests of South America about 55-65 Ma. Most subsequent attine agricultural evolution, including the domestication event that produced the ancestor of higher attine cultivars, is likewise hypothesized to have occurred in South American rainforests."

Symbiotic adaptations in the fungal cultivar of leaf-cutting ants
"Centuries of artificial selection have dramatically improved the yield of human agriculture; however, strong directional selection also occurs in natural symbiotic interactions. Fungus-growing attine ants cultivate basidiomycete fungi for food. One cultivar lineage has evolved inflated hyphal tips (gongylidia) that grow in bundles called staphylae, to specifically feed the ants."
Unlike towing icebergs, which I really think is a cool (pun intended) but stupid and impractical idea, studying ant agriculture would be worthwhile.  As Barry Commoner said, "Nature Knows Best."  Speaking of worthwhile, I think I will show this video to my class next week.  I haven't tested them on the material yet, so my students can still use it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

'The Grid' plus 2017 drum corps shows with speculative fiction themes

Today is the opening day of the competitive drum corps season and I have the same urge I had two years ago, when I posted An 'Out of This World' drum corps show.  Back then, I posted two videos of the previous season's space-themed show and then examined all the repertoires that had speculative fiction elements.  Today, I'm doing something very similar as I can't resist when drum corps overlaps with one of my other interests.

First, I present the science-fiction themed drum corps show from 2016, Legends from Kalamazoo, Michigan, playing "The Grid" with music from "Tron: Legacy" and "The Matrix Reloaded," two science fiction film sequels about cyberspace.

In case that gets taken down, here is a video of a rehearsal from earlier that month.  The corps may not be in uniform, but the sound is better.

I've always wanted to hear "Mona Lisa Overdrive" on a football field and last year I got my wish.

Legends continue to be inspired by science fiction, as this year's show is "The Signal" with music from "Wall-E" and "Stargate."  Not only are they exploring outer space, they're doing so with an environmental theme.  I like it!  Better yet, the corps is from Michigan!

Here are the rest of the shows with speculative fiction elements.
Blue Devils B    The World the Children Made - Saellite * Spiritual Planet * Pure Imagination * Original Works * Worlds
Boston Crusaders    Wicked Games - Full Moon Forest and Rising of the Sun – Moonlight Sonata * Full Moon Forest and Rising of the Sun – The Adoration of Veles and Ala (From Scythian Suite) * Whispers and Accusations - Whispers * Whispers and Accusations - Cortege Macabre (from Grohg) * Tortured – Wicked Game * Hunt for the Afflicted – Toccata (from Piano Concerto no. 1) * Trial and Execution – The Verdict
Heat Wave of Florida    Project Apollo - Olympiada * Enterprising Young Men (from Star Trek) * Twelve Seconds to the Moon * Fly Me To The Moon * Ride
Pacific Crest    Golden State of Mind - California Dreamin’ * Kaleidoscope of Mathematics (from A Beautiful Mind Soundtrack) * Arrival of the Birds * Alfonso Muskedunder * Moving On (from the Lost Soundtrack)
Santa Clara Vanguard    Ouroboros - Interplay for Piano Four Hands and Orchestra * The Triumph of Time * Song of Eight Unruly Tipsy Poets * Into a Virtual World * Remembering the Future from “Wait of the World”
Shadow    Atreyu - Selections from The Neverending Story
The Cavaliers    Men are from Mars - Also Sprach Zarathustra * Fanfare for the Common Man * Wine Dark Sea * Little Green Men * On the Nature of Daylight * O Superman * Sun's Gone Dim * Mars from The Planets * My Way
The shows with the strongest science fiction elements are Heat Wave's (science fiction) and Shadow (fantasy).  The Cavaliers and Santa Clara Vanguard have some science fiction elements scattered throughout their shows.  Pacific Crest only has a song from "Lost," which is definitely speculative fiction, but which kind I don't even want to think about now.  Boston Crusaders have the weakest speculative fiction theme, as their show is about the Salem Witch Trials.  Yes, really.  I never thought I'd see that on a football field.  That topic is historical, not speculative, but it makes for good real-life horror.

Here's to all the corps having a good season and to the speculative fiction elements working.

ETA: I forgot about Blue Devils B, whose show has a moderately strong fantasy theme with science-fictional elements.  It sits at the bottom of the upper half of the pack in terms of speculative fiction above Boston Crusaders, Pacific Crest, Santa Clara Vanguard, and The Cavaliers and behind Legends, Shadow, and Heat Wave.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

World Giraffe Day for the 2017 Summer Solstice

I opened Fossils for National Seashell Day plus bonus American Eagle Day by writing "I already have a celebration of Happy World Giraffe Day on the Summer Solstice planned."  Time to follow through and celebrate the longest necked animal on the longest day of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) beginning with World Giraffe Day: Giraffe Conservation Foundation from Animalia Collective.

Our friends at Giraffe Conservation Foundation are getting ready to celebrate World Giraffe Day.
For a more relaxing tribute, here is USA Today's Celebrate World Giraffe Day with these gentle giants.

You don't have to strain your neck to check out fun clips of these tall animals in honor of World Giraffe Day.
Finally, Toys"R"Us (yes, the toy store with the giraffe mascot) celebrates the day by Looking Back at April the Giraffe on World Giraffe Day.

Toys"R"Us takes a look back at one of the most interesting internet viral sensations of the year, April the Giraffe.
It may have been cleverly disguised corporate PR, but it was cute and on-topic.

With that, I wish my readers a Happy World Giraffe Day and a Happy Summer Solstice!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fossils for National Seashell Day plus bonus American Eagle Day

While National Day Calendar says tomorrow is National Seashell Day, I already have a celebration of Happy World Giraffe Day on the Summer Solstice planned.  So I'm going to take advantage of last year's National Seashell Day being held on the 20th to celebrate it today.  I'm a snail expert as well as a paleontologist, I'm using Seeker/DNews' This Famous Tongue Twister Is Actually About Dinosaurs to put my own unique spin on the holiday.

"She sells seashells by the seashore" isn't the whole story.
"Mary Anning found the fossils of prehistoric animals. Today many children like finding out about dinosaurs. When Mary Anning was a child, no one knew about these long-dead animals. Mary's fossil-hunting helped change the way people thought about the world."
I plan on showing this video to my geology class today.  Welcome to blogging as professional development.

There is another national day that actually happens today that I also want to celebrate, National American Eagle Day.  Follow over the jump for my blogging observation.

Monday, June 19, 2017

U.S. and U.K. set new solar and wind energy records

I have more good news about renewable energy, which is happening despite Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement to widespread condemnation and ridicule.  Newsy reports US sets new record for wind and solar power use.

For the first time ever, wind and solar power generated 10 percent of U.S. energy for a single month.
Scientific American reported the above, as well as some projections into the future.
The EIA projects that wind and solar will generate 10 percent of U.S. electricity year-round by 2020. But scientists say the country’s power supply could see a larger share of wind and solar by then for at least part of the year.

“I believe that by 2020, we will see the first 15 percent month, possibly a little sooner,” Clack said. “This will partly depend on the weather patterns in the year, but I could see substantial (wind and solar plant) additions before 2020 that will increase production to those levels.”
Scientific American also included some veiled editorial comment as part of its analysis.
The renewables milestone comes amid actions by the Trump administration to turn back federal climate policies intended to cut greenhouse gas emissions by embracing wind, solar and other renewable energy. Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax,” has re-committed the U.S. to coal energy, which was the largest single source of climate pollution in the U.S. until being eclipsed by the transportation sector last year.

Though the federal government is doubling down on coal, electric power companies are embracing less-polluting natural gas, wind and solar power as the cost of generating electricity from those sources falls.

March’s milestone “says that the Trump Administration is living in the last century,” Firestone said.
I agree with this statement.

Follow over the jump for news from across the pond.